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Liza Knipscher ’15

Biomedical illustrator and educational application developer credits the interdisciplinary nature of her classes and surroundings as impacting her career path.

Major: Psychology
Minors: Biology and Visual Arts

Lives in Pheonix, AZ
Originally from upstate New York

Liza Knipscher ’15 currently works on a team developing tactile experiences for VR environments. Before that, she was a 3D interactive programmer/modeler for Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, where she collaborated with neurosurgeons using game development tools like Unity3D to develop biomedical educational interactive applications for computers, phones, tablets, and virtual reality.

She earned her MS in Biomedical Visualization at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

In her spare time, she plays and makes video games. Her dream is to see a lizard in the wild. 

Why Purchase?

At first, I chose Purchase because I intended to start a career as a painter. The arts conservatories at Purchase have an excellent reputation, and because I was an in-state student, tuition was much less expensive than at the other art schools I considered.

When I decided, two years into school, that that art world wasn’t for me, I was fortunate to be at Purchase—it was seamless to switch into their wonderful psychology major.

How did your experience here prepare you for life after Purchase?

I had a chance to be on my own, with the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. I grew up so much during my time at Purchase.

I didn’t do well my first couple of semesters—high school had been pretty easy and I hadn’t learned self-discipline yet—but I sorted out my priorities quickly, realized I love to excel, learned to work hard, and never looked back.

It was stressful at times, because changing who you are as a person is stressful, but I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t gone to Purchase.

Which faculty member made a difference in your life/career?

It’s hard to choose just one person, especially because I switched majors halfway through. When I was an art major, Carol Bankerd and Phil Listengart had a major impact on me. Carol’s Crossover course was my first experience of the combination of art and science that became my career path, and Phil, who taught Intro to Sculpture, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

As a psych major, I was lucky to work closely with Suzanne Clerkin and Kaori Germano, who gave me the chance to be a learning assistant for Physiological Psychology and conduct my own EEG research study. They trusted me with a lot of responsibility for an undergraduate, and the lessons I learned from these experiences made me a strong, competitive applicant to graduate programs. 

What would you cite as your program’s greatest assets?

I was constantly surrounded by talented, passionate, fascinating people. My roommates were actors, painters, sculptors, a person who made giant papier-mâché celebrity heads, and a leopard gecko breeder.

My best friends were a playwright and a director. I even got to design the poster for Mitski’s senior project recital—definitely my peak as a non-medical illustrator. (I’m hoping for further peaks as a medical illustrator.) 

What aspect of the program or your experience here had a lasting impact?

The interdisciplinary nature of my classes and surroundings had a huge effect on my career path. By the time I graduated, I’d taken classes in psychology, biology, neuroscience, drawing, painting, sculpture, and even screenwriting.

I was like, “what am I going to do with this? How can these possibly fit together?” and then it turned out that everything I learned was totally relevant to my career as a medical app/game developer. Including screenwriting.

Anything else you’d like a prospective student to know about attending Purchase?

Show up for things. You can get so much out of being an engaged, active person. I remember one time I got a random email about an event in the art building, showed up, and ended up taking a free class on marquetry (please Google it, it’s beautiful) from one of the leading experts in North America.

Also, try to become an expert in a few subjects that don’t seem to make any sense together, because then if someone needs to hire someone with those skill sets, you’ll be exactly who they’re looking for. The only downside is that, as a biomedical artist/programmer, sometimes takes me like ten minutes to explain my job to people.

Any extracurricular activities while at Purchase you’d like to mention? 

At the very beginning of school, I was determined to start a club for people who happen to be velociraptors, just in case anyone on campus was a velociraptor. It was called the Society of People Who Are Also Velociraptors, or SPWAAV, pronounced phonetically. It lasted only a few weeks, and we never spoke of it again.

Until now.